I remember it was a Monday afternoon at 12.30 p.m., on March 23, 1991, the appointed time that I met Jeh every week. He had spent a week in hospital recovering from an angina attack. I had been in to see him every day at the hospital and we had talked mostly of non-business issues. On this afternoon he confronted me with “Well, what’s new?” which was his standard greeting every Monday. I said, “Nothing Jeh, we only met on Friday. There’s nothing new since then.”
He smiled and said, “I have something new. I have decided to retire as chairman and appoint you in my place as Tata Sons’ chairman.” Needless to say, I was overwhelmed-and a bit speechless. He went on to say, “I haven’t decided the day because I have to consult Ajit Kerkar.” That sort of jolted me. He then clarified that Ajit was very good at picking auspicious dates.
So on that presumably auspicious day, the momentous board meeting was held at which he very touchingly spoke about his years as chairman, how much he had enjoyed them, what he felt he had tried to contribute, what he thought his achievements and his frustrations were. He talked a great deal about the firm and what it stood for. And then his reason for “passing the baton”, as he put it, to a younger person.